Tales of loathsome tyrants and prophesied saviors aren't nearly so appealing when you are a royal bastard with a prophecy hanging over your head.


A week later, I squirm as I stand by Prince Aidan's bags, waiting for some of the castle menservants to come take the luggage to the carriage that'll carry us to Grehafen.

Silva doesn't know. And she'll be riding with us. We will have to keep her thinking what she does, thinking that Aidan's forcing me into being his mistress, that I'm terrified, that he has a yet-untamed violent and temperamental side…

Without spending enough time together to want to make this farce a reality. Aidan likes me enough that the idea's appealing; he's said as much.

This is going to be an exhausting, nerve-wracking, hazardous trip, and not just for me.

Aidan comes in and looks around, checking once again to make certain we've forgotten nothing of import. His light skin takes on the grey hue everything else does from my veil.

The veil is actually rather comfortable—or, at least, it would be except for what it signifies. I don't want to consider how much Aidan has used of his own royal allowance to buy my clothing. He holds a bag of things he's evidently packed last-minute.

I shiver when he looks at me, feeling exposed in my risqué grey gown despite the long boots and gloves that at least cover most of what the dress fails to.

I'm still not used to the high skirt that threatens to show my knees, as harlots' do, or the sleevelessness of the dress but for the wide shoulder straps. Despite the gloves, my shoulders are still left bare. Even Carling would think this improper for a maiden to wear, and she's grown up around the bad examples of her father's mistresses.

"Are you ready?"

I nod; my single bag sits among his. I try to avoid thinking of why.

He likewise nods in response, distractedly, and starts heading back to the door to probably go check on the horses again.

"Silva will be in the carriage with us," I blurt.

That stops him. Prince Aidan pauses before he turns towards me. "Yes?"

"How will we keep the… act like… make her still think…?"

A smile tugs his lips. "She won't expect me to… take my fun along the way, with her in the carriage. That's why she is sharing our ride, in fact; she insisted on accompanying us instead of traveling in her own." Which some people of the old school still think more appropriate for a promised maiden. According to the stories that gossips tell, philanderers usually seduce naïve young women while traveling.

No matter that the man already has a mistress—he can easily take the other who rides with them. Never mind that Queen Yuoleen's fall came during a horseback ride turned picnic.

"But when we stop to sleep—"


I remind myself that his sharpness isn't from anger. "I should probably have a few bruises the next day." We'll be taking a leisurely week for the nigh eighty-league trip.

He flinches. "You don't expect me to inflict that?"

It's good for him. He's too protective of me, a whelp. "Yes."

Aidan's brown eyes are wearied as their owner stares at me for several seconds. "One stop," he agrees in resignation. "I'll only cause it once."

"And take liberties?"

"Power—" He swallows the curse as he stomps away. It takes him a good minute to resume control of himself and return. "Hold your hand, touch your shoulder, all right. I've done that before. Arm around the waist, perhaps. But we are not sharing a bed."

I stiffen. "Of course not!" I'm not fool enough to think that a safe behavior for a man and a woman who wish to avoid intimacy.

"And I'm not kissing you."

That could harm the credibility of our charade. I pause and consider my response. "What quality of mistress I must be if my master won't even—"

My face in his suddenly-there hands halts my tongue, my mouth abruptly dry. This is better, I repeat firmly to myself as I fight back the internal chill and icy tears.

"Why do you fight so, Evonalé? Why fight so strongly for something you don't want?"

I keep my face as impassive as I can while the uncontrollable cold tears run one at a time down my cheeks, his hands, to moisten the cuff of his sleeve.

He scowls at my refusal to reply, stroking my cheekbone with this thumb. "Whatever you do in this game, don't play temptress," he murmurs. "That's not one of the roles we've established."

And he doesn't trust himself with temptation if I entice him, I assume. The knowledge makes my stomach churn.

Some small part of my mind realizes I could use that to my advantage if I ever need to escape Drake's abuse. There are ways to ensure that a child will likely be by one lover and not another.

My stomach twists within me at the thought. No. Royal bastard by incest I might be, but I am not a harlot.

But if I can't avoid it entirely, I'd rather be used and have a bastard sired on me by my old friend than by my half-brother. Aidan wouldn't brutalize me. That thought has more appeal than I like admitting, even to myself.

He still holds my face in his hands. I examine him, the temperature conflict between fear and embarrassment from my thoughts now keeping me at a more normal temperature.

I step back, just enough to pull away from him. "Highness?"

"Yes, Evonalé?"

The way he looks at me makes my stomach jerk in yet another direction. It's wrong, those thoughts. Aidan's going to be hurt enough by my death. I'd be a horrid person to intentionally add more guilt to that.

I shake my head; William clears his throat from the doorway. "Pardon, Highness." From the tension in his mien and voice, I doubt he means the apology. "I'm here to fetch your bags."

And the act continues.

"Come in."

William gathers the last of the bags in this one trip. He tries to step between me and Aidan, to separate us, to give me space away from the man who's evidently abusing me. Aidan doesn't allow it and takes my arm. With a glare at his prince, William leaves the room with his load.

Maybe I should check the food; I wouldn't want one of the well-meaning but mislead servants to attempt to assassinate Aidan. His grandmother killed her husband, King Jarvis by poisoning.

I follow, carrying a small one of my knitting on one arm while Prince Aidan escorts me by the other arm through the castle to the carriage.

I say 'escort,' but he keeps a firm grip on my elbow. I mutely let him pull me along, letting myself be slow, labored; bent. I shuffle my feet, avoid others' gazes; flinch away from Aidan's gaze.

From others' responses, I'm apparently doing very well in my imitation of Mother, of the girls I saw when I was small who had caught Father's eye. Some relished his attentions. Most didn't. A fool could realize that Father was no man that a woman would want to marry, for her own sake.

Now I just need to convince myself that entire façade is a good thing.

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